Calvary Episcopal Church
April 11, 1999
Second Sunday of Easter
Doubt Always a Bad Thing?
The Rev. William
cant believe everything you hear, right? I mean, thats just
the way things are, right? Take for example, biblical figures. Sometimes
it says one thing about them in scripture, but the culture and its religions
might tell a different and inaccurate story.
for example, Job. This man is known as an Old Testament person of great
patience --of the greatest patience, especially under affliction. You
have heard and so have I, "oh, hes got the patience of Job!!"
Well, that is not the way I understand it. Job is a believer who questions
God and complains about what is happening to him. You will remember that
Job had worked hard, been faithful to all of his commitments, especially
his major commitment, to God. Suddenly Job has a streak of bad fortune
that would make a mountain crack. His wife dies, his fortune is wiped
out, and he breaks out in boils. He has solicitous friends and neighbors
coming to him day and night asking, among other obnoxious questions, what
he has done so wrong as to earn such a string of disasters.
Finally, he loses it. He complains and protests. So much so that God has
to say to this child of his, God has to say, "who do you think you
are, and who do you think I am???" Actually thats a paraphrase
---what God is actually quoted by those who recorded this history of the
bond between Job and Yahweh as saying, is, "Where were YOU when I
made the earth? What were YOU doing when the seas were formed?" (Another
paraphrase but much closer to the original.) Job had forgotten that God
is the Creator and that he, Job, is but a creature.
Or take the subject of todays Gospel, Thomas, known throughout the
world and throughout the ages as "Doubting Thomas." Now that
title suggests to me that there are at least two underlying assumptions
here: one, that Thomas was more of a doubter than anyone else who was
involved in this part of the Good News, and two, that doubt is bad.
Well, lets look at those. Those who see Thomas as THE doubter of
the ages should consider the men who, when told by excited women that
they had seen Jesus tomb and it was empty, had doubted it. Or perhaps
they should recall that Peter, the "rock upon which the Church was
founded," had to go to the tomb to see for himself when told about
the resurrection. Most of all, the suggestion that nobody else had major
doubts is shot down by the Evangelist Luke, when he recounts the scene
of Jesus appearance to the Apostles, locked in a room in fear on
Easter night (this is the appearance that Thomas missed):
"...they were startled and terrified, and thought that they were
seeing a ghost. Jesus said to them, ëWhy are you frightened, and
why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see
that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh
and bones as you see that I have." Later, Luke observes, "...in
their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering."
So I think it is fair to suggest that Thomas gets a bad rap as the major
doubter of the ages.
Now the second piece of Thomas reputation that seems to be negative
is that the doubt that he speaks, about whether or not Jesus has actually
risen from the grave, is a bad thing.
Doubt is not always a bad thing. It shows concern, it shows interest and
it shows honesty. If Thomas, rather than wanting proof, had said instead,
"So? So what??" when told of the resurrection, then I can see
where he would have the reputation of being faithless. But doubt, by itself,
often indicates that the doubter wants very much to believe but is afraid
to. Doubt leads to questioning, which can lead
to deep faith and indicates that our faith is not fragile, not just based
on what we
were told as
children and accepted "whole cloth." A German saying goes, "To
believe everything is too much; to believe nothing is not enough."
Doubting is a sign of caring. If I dont care, you can tell me men
from the moon visited you last night during your prayers and I will say,
"thats nice." But if I care, if I care passionately, I
will perhaps ask, "Really? What did they look like? Did you really
see men from the moon? I cant believe it!" Which translates
into, I want to believe it. I would like to believe that wanting to have
faith is a form of faith.
One of Thomas great virtues was that he absolutely refused to say
that he understood what he did not understand, or that he believed what
he did not believe. There was an uncompromising honesty about him: he
would never still his doubts by pretending they did not exist.
By inviting Thomas to touch him and feel his wounds, Jesus, I think, is
approving Thomas questions, because he knows they arise from an
honest doubt that can and often does lead to faithful commitment. And,
because Thomas doubted and was satisfied, it becomes possible for us who
have not seen the Risen Lord physically, it becomes possible for us to
believe. Remember too, that it was Thomas, according to the Evangelist
John, who told the other Apostles when Jesus was about to go to Bethany
because of Lazarus grave state, "Let us also go that we may
die with him," a great statement of faith and commitment.
For a lot of us, I think, it is not a question of whether or not there
is a God as much as it is what kind of God do we have, what can we expect
of God, are our expectations of God about the reality of God or about
our own desires?
When you think of it, to believe the Gospel is to believe something fantastic,
as in a fantasy. Of all the people you have known who have died, not one,
I daresay, has risen from the dead, physically. Yet we are to believe
that Jesus rose physically from the grave, from death to physical life.
We would like to believe, we yearn to believe, but it is clearly understandable
that we might have a doubt or two, perhaps until we see and experience
evidence of resurrection in our own lives, or in the lives of those around
Helen Keller, who was blind
from birth but who accomplished great things and who, to this moment,
is a courageous model for all who have to live with a significant handicap,said
this about doubt:
"It need not discourage us if we are full of doubts. Healthy questions
keep faith dynamic. Unless we start with doubts we cannot have a deep-rooted
faith. He who has a faith which is not to be shaken has won it through
blood and tears -- has worked his way from doubt to truth as one who reaches
a clearing through a thicket of brambles and thorns."
The poet Lord Alfred Tennyson, who lived through most of the 19th century,
said, "There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in
half the creeds..." And one George MacDonald said this: "Doubt
is the hammer that breaks the windows clouded with human fancies, and
lets in the pure light."
The patience that was attributed to Job is not always a virtue: when a
question or even a protest to God is in our heart and mind and soul, it
may be time to speak up. God is God. (Pardon the sexist phrasing, but:)
God is a big Guy; he can take it. And God doesnt take umbrage or
offense. If you and I are in a good trusting relationship, then it is
in fact important to the maintenance of that high-quality bond that we
be honest with each other when something is bothering one of us.
So it was with Job in his questioning of God; so it was with Thomas. These
men of passion and love of the Lord, are inspiration and reassuring proof
that doubt, when it comes, does not have to be a negative; it can be a
tool used in the building of a personal and real faith.
Copyright 1999 Calvary Episcopal Church
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors
of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."
After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples
rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace
be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had
said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy
Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you
retain the sins of any, they are retained."
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with
them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen
the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the
nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my
hand in his side, I will not believe."
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with
them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and
said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put
your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my
side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord
and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you
have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which
are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come
to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through
believing you may have life in his name. (NRSV)